Wednesday 14 September 2016

National Archives of Ireland releases online its final major batch of free record collections

Regular readers of Irish Genealogy News will know I've been banging on for ages about the imminent arrival of a final tranche of major record collections destined for the easy to search and free National Archives of Ireland (NAI) Genealogy website. Exactly how many times I've been assured their launch is imminent, I couldn't tell you (the last time was in June), but today I can reveal that they're not coming soon...

They've arrived.

They'll be permanently available, free, on both the NAI's site (no registration required) and on (need to register, but no need for a subscription).

Here are the record sets we'll now have available to us through the wonders of digitisation and online technology:

Valuation Office Books, 1848–1860
This collection includes the House, Field, Tenure and Quarto Books completed by surveyors as they went about the countryside conducting their surveys. It isn't complete – there is another sizeable tranche of these books (about one-eighth of the total) still undergoing conservation and cataloguing – so some researchers will find gaps in coverage in the new collection. There is no particular rhyme or reason to the gaps; you may be lucky, you may not.

These books are not likely to be bothering too many beginner researchers, but they can sometimes reveal the 'missing vital link' to the history of a family. Previously scattered across several repositories, the books in this collection are likely to be full of surprises now that they are fully indexed and readily accessible in one place.
Cavan District Registry's transcribed copy
of the will of Bernard Maguire, died 1858
Original Will Registers, 1858–1920
This collection consists of the surviving Will Books prepared by the district registries. (The only Will Books lost in the PRO in 1922 were those for the Principal Registry based in Dublin and the Dublin District Registry).

The books contain transcripts of each will, the wording of the grant, the date of transcription and the date of the death of the testator. Click image right to see part of the transcribed copy of the will of Bernard Maguire.

(PRONI holds the books covering counties of Northern Ireland.)

Catholic Qualification & Convert Rolls, 1701–1845
These records have been top of the wishlist of many genealogists for some time, so they are going to be very happily received, indeed. It's rare to have a pre-Famine collection at our finger tips (or click of a mouse) and this one is no shrinking violet with a whopping 52,000 records. The Rolls record those who chose to convert to the Church of Ireland or swear allegiance to the British monarchy in order to avoid the harsh Penal Laws which prevented Irish Catholics from owning property or running businesses. They took an oat at the local assizes or in Dublin and their names were then registered to show that they 'qualified' for privileges. The Rolls were lost in 1922, but the indexes survive. The information they hold is usually name, occupation, date and name of place where the oath was taken.

Diocesan and Prerogative Wills Indexes, pre-1858
These indexes are arranged by diocese and some of the books are in a very poor and damaged state (some even have bullet holes through them!). Although the majority of records in this collection are indexes, a small percentage (let's say 5%) are Will Books compiled at the time the will was proved.

Diocesan and Prerogative Marriage Licence Bonds Indexes, 1623 - 1866
Marriage licences were granted, for a fee, by the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of Ireland. These indexes record Protestant marriages and provide names of the bride and groom, the year of marriage and the diocese in which it took place.

Merchant Navy Crew Lists, 1863–1921
I really wasn't sure what this collection would deliver but the quickest dip into it has already resulted in exciting discoveries about my maternal ancestors from Wicklow Town. My gt gt gt grandfather Edward Doolittle (1812-1886) was Master of several cargo ships during his lifetime, and I knew one of these vessels was called Monkton. So I was thrilled to find several impressive looking crew list documents (one of them is below) showing his son, also called Edward, as crew for voyages taken in the 1860s and 1870s. Even more fascinating is that Edward junior was sailing under the guidance of one Captain George Nichols, the man who married his sister and is another of my gt gt gt grandfathers. There are many of these crew lists featuring one or two of the men over a period of three decades and I'm going to enjoy going through them, one at a time, to see what else they might reveal.